Almost a quarter of a century ago this investigator wrote a study of life in the Arabian desert in ancient times. It first appeared in the pages of the Improvement Era under the title of “Lehi in the Desert,” and drew almost exclusively on the writings of European visitors to those arid regions during the past 200 years and the works of Medieval and modern Arabic writers. Some years later in a study called “Qumran and the Companions of the Cave,” he again explored the subject, this time with extensive flights into the early Arabic writers. (Rev. de Qum. 5 , pp. 177–198). Since the ways of the Bedouins are notoriously unchanging, the idea was that the Arabic report of how things were out there would apply in ancient as well as in Medieval and modern times, and thereby supply us with a “control” over Nephi’s history of his family’s travels and tribulations in those same deserts early in the 6th century B.C. The main reason for using Arabic sources was, of course, that there were no other specialized studies in the field. But just as the articles began to appear, the first copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls began to be available—and that changed everything. We no longer had to ask the Arabs how the Jews may have behaved in the desert in ancient times, since we now had first-hand reports of how they actually did. Those reports have steadily increased in volume, and Prof. Yadin’s book now carries the Book of Mormon student far beyond the former speculations.
Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it has become plain that one of the constants of Jewish history in ancient times was the small band of pious souls who would leave Jerusalem, which they deemed domed and corrupted, to go out into the desert to form their own community there and to attempt to carry on in the manner of Israel in the wilderness under Moses. Lehi is a classic example of such an operation, and the tradition was carried over right into the New World, Lehi’s descendants forming such groups of pious sectaries from time. The most notable of these was Alma’s colony, and we are told how it came about. Alma, as a young priest, serving under a corrupt king, became a secret disciple of the prophet Abinadi, who was a master of the old Jewish lore, and a caustic wit; he was a walking Bible, and after he was put to death, Alma hid out in a cave and wrote from memory, and probably from notes, all he could recall of Abinadi’s teachings. Then he went out into a desert place to a spot called the Waters of Mormon, and there set up his community, organized in companies of 50 with visiting inspectors, engaging in pious activities, self-supporting and industrious. He initiated members by baptism in the Waters of Mormon. Even down to details his organization resembles very closely the sectaries of the Dead Sea. Yadin points out in his book the presence at Qumran of “numerous cisterns and ritual baths” (p. 189), the ritual nature of which was stoutly denied by Jewish and Christian scholars alike as being an altogether unlikely circumstance.